CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - The state that pioneered the quickie divorce is witnessing a potentially ugly breakup that has the governor of Nevada fighting to get back into his own mansion.
Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons filed for divorce last week after moving out of the 23-room official residence. With his wife, Dawn, now ensconced in the Governor's Mansion, he has gone to court to have her evicted so that he can move back.
Entire sitcoms have been built on less. And many Nevadans are fascinated by the whole spectacle.
"This isn't a tourist attraction, but it's certainly an attraction," said Michael Green, a history professor at the College of Southern Nevada.
A popular liberal blogger, Hugh Jackson of lasvegasgleaner.com, has gleefully declared, "Gibbons vs. Gibbons: Let's get ready to rumble!" and has taken the opportunity to re-post photos of Gibbons partying on a cruise with a crowd of women.
With a judge sealing most of the records Monday at the governor's request, the blogosphere is full of rumors about why Gibbons, 63, wants a divorce. He is not talking publicly, and his 54-year-old wife has said she has no idea why he wants to end their marriage of nearly 22 years.
The divorce case - and the potential political fallout - are the latest in a series of difficulties for the first-term governor, including a corruption investigation by the FBI, still under way, and claims by a Las Vegas cocktail waitress that he assaulted her in a parking garage after she rebuffed his advances just before his 2006 election.
Police last year said they found insufficient evidence to support the waitress' claim. But during the furor, Dawn Gibbons literally stood by her husband and resolutely defended him, lending critical support at a supremely perilous moment in his career.
Gibbons moved out of the mansion - a 1908 structure with fluted white Ionic columns, wraparound verandas and a grand, Greek Revival-style portico - sometime earlier this year and returned to the couple's modest, four-bedroom house about 25 miles away in Reno, which is appropriate, given the way Nevada turned the phrase "I'm going to Reno!" into a 1940s euphemism for divorce. He continues to conduct some official business at the mansion before driving back to Reno at night.
The move has raised questions about the governor's compliance with an 1866 state law that says a governor must "keep his office and reside at the seat of government."
The Nevada Appeal in Carson City said in an editorial that the governor should be the one living in the mansion - unless "they change its name to the First Lady's Mansion."
"Dawn Gibbons should leave and let the taxpayers' representative do our business in our mansion. If she wants to live there, she should get elected governor or live with the one we've got," Sid Goodman of Las Vegas wrote in a letter to the editor of the Las Vegas Sun.
Gibbons press secretary Ben Kieckhefer has described the move to
Reno as a temporary situation and said there is no violation of the law.
Dawn Gibbons told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that she didn't ask Gibbons to move out, and that she has been trying to "make sure my marriage works." She also said she wants to continue performing her duties as first lady and needs to be in the mansion because that is her office and where her staff works.
Besides attending ceremonial functions, the first lady has led the state's anti-methamphetamine effort and pushed for programs to help autistic children.
"I don't know what I'm supposed to do," she told the Las Vegas newspaper. "I don't know why he's divorcing me. All I'm trying to do is keep it together." She also complained: "He won't talk to me. I can't get a hold of him."
It has long been known that Gibbons and his wife have had problems in their marriage, and that has led to some awkward moments.
The governor and the first lady avoided each other at a ball held at the state Republican convention last month, arriving and leaving separately. During a gubernatorial news conference at the mansion in March, Gibbons' wife walked through the room silently, unacknowledged by the governor. Gibbons responded with a denial when a reporter asked if he had a girlfriend.
At the GOP convention, an irate Gibbons told reporters it was "a great disservice to our family" to see accounts of his marital problems in the newspapers. The couple have a college-age son, and the governor also has two grown children from a previous marriage.
Gibbons, a former airline and military combat pilot, was a state lawmaker and then served five terms in Congress before getting elected governor in 2006. While Gibbons was in Congress, his wife
didn't join him in Washington, and continued to live in Reno.
While he was serving with the Nevada Air Guard during the first
Gulf War, she filled his Assembly seat. Later, she was elected in
her own right and served three terms. Two years ago, she sought the
congressional seat her husband was giving up, but lost in the
In Gibbons' divorce complaint, he cited incompatibility as grounds for ending the marriage. The complaint also said "the cause of action for divorce" occurred in Reno, but offered no specifics.
Cal Dunlap, Dawn Gibbons' attorney, said she would prefer that the proceedings be public, but under state law, either party in a divorce can ask for secrecy and a judge is required to grant it.
The divorce "could hurt him if it's messy," said Green, the history professor. "When you pile this on everything else that he's been involved with, you have to question how much political capital he has. Has he become a lame duck or a crippled duck?"
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)